1- HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
From the end of the 17th to the early 18th century, a faction of the Tchambas, also known as the Balis, which had rejected Islam in the northern part of Cameroon, moved towards the south of the country in general and in the Bamileke country specifically. They were basically horseback fighters using bows and arrows. It was at this very moment that the peoples of the Grass-Fields discovered horses and warrior horsemen at the same time.
From Simon Pierre Kenne Fouedong's « L’HISTOIRE DE BATCHAM DES ORIGINES A LA COLONISATION ALLEMANDE» the Longouh King of Batcham was, like all the other kings, slaughtered by the latter.
Since then, all the kings and high dignitaries of the west lived in fear of this enemy and its war technique. Very cunning, the Grass-Fields fighters quickly developed a strategy that consisted of digging deep and wide ditches on the village tracks and covering them slightly on the surface, leaving the inside empty (sometimes they planted arrows with the pointed ends pointing upwards). After this stage, they would attack the enemy and flee to these trapped trails. This is how, in their crazy and naive races against the enemy, the horses suddenly found themselves crashing into the ditches with their horsemen.
After this downfall, the Grass-Fields fighters simply walked back to cut off the horses' tails. These warriors would finally return to hand over the ponytails to their kings as a symbol of victory over the enemy by singing songs about victory. It is these songs that are sung today at the funeral in its preliminary dance known as the 'keyà'.
Having lost many men when confronted with these Balis, the funerals of the dead, as well as the new cases of mourning, were to be a suitable occasion to testify the victory over these criminals. This is how the fly whisk became part of the traditional ceremonial dress at funerals and mourning among the bamilékés. On such occasions, the highest local authority, namely the king, had to take the longest fly whisk, turn it from left to right and vice versa to show the greatness of the population he governed.
To celebrate this joy with the king, the other dignitaries and heads of families had to bring medium-sized and short fly whisks, respectively, based on the population they each commanded. Since white horses were very rare, whitetails were also very rare. Thus, the person holding a white fly whisk was considered the most valiant of his respective local social class.
Additionally, the carving made at the end of each ponytail could also identify its holder.
Author: Leonard Piata